Joe Dumars hopes Josh Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond frontcourt can take cues from Hawks and Grizzlies

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Which team has the best starting frontcourt in the NBA?

Depending on how you value the top player compared to the depth of the trio, there are several contenders including:

  • Nets (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brook Lopez)
  • Bulls (Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah)
  • Nuggets (Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee)
  • Warriors (Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Andrew Bogut)
  • Pacers (Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert)
  • Grizzlies (Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol)
  • Heat (LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh)
  • Timberwolves (Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic)
  • Thunder (Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins)
  • Spurs (Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter)

I’ll offer one other wildcard option: the Pistons with Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

Those three have a lot of talent, though it’s not clear how they will fit together. None is a good shooter outside the paint, but perhaps they can create other matchup advantages by being big. Really big.

If Smith adapts to playing small forward, if Monroe develops defensively, if Drummond can handle big minutes, they could be excellent. Obviously, their partnership relies on a lot of ifs.

Joe Dumars realizes that too, and he addressed them in a fantastic Q&A with Zach Lowe of Grantland:

I’m sure you anticipated the spacing concerns everyone has raised since you signed Josh Smith, a non-shooter who has played mostly power forward the last few seasons. Why did you go with Josh, another big, instead of chasing someone like maybe Andre Iguodala on the wing? Or are you not all that worried about the spacing stuff?

We just thought we needed to get better from a pure talent standpoint. And that’s where Smith and Jennings and KCP [rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] and Chauncey [Billups] come in. That was first and foremost — just to raise the talent level.

Of course, you don’t have the stretch [power forward] or the 3-point shooting [small forward] in that lineup, but what you do have in Monroe and Smith are two guys who really have high basketball IQs, and are very, very good passers. Even if you’re not spreading to the 3-point line, when you have high IQ guys playing together, they make plays for each other.

And I don’t know how many minutes we’ll have that front line [Drummond, Smith, Monroe] on the floor together, once you get past the first six minutes for the first quarter. It’s not like it’s going to be 40 minutes a night with that front line. Monroe will slide to [center], Josh will slide to [power forward]. It’s not a concern of ours.

Did you look to Memphis as something of an inspiration — another team that struggles for spacing, but that managed to squeeze out enough points after the Rudy Gay trade by just moving the ball and using a great passing big in Marc Gasol to run a lot of the offense?

We looked at that. We actually talked about them a lot. There are definitely similarities. We watched a lot of film of them, and what they were doing after Tayshaun [Prince] got there, and how it worked. And it clearly worked.

Smith and Al Horford ran a mean big-big pick-and-roll in Atlanta.

Exactly. That’s because Josh can really pass the ball. He can deliver. When you have frontcourt guys who can pass the ball … that’s why Marc Gasol is so, so good. That’s why with Vlade Divac and Arvydas Sabonis, centers who could really pass it, you don’t worry about what the system is, because whatever it is, they are going to figure it out.

At minimum, Detroit’s starting frontcourt is wayyyy more talented than last year’s – Kyle Singler, Jason Maxiell and Monroe – so that bodes well for the Pistons, but it’s not the only factor in their success. Maurice Cheeks will have his work cut out for him in making everything work.

But, as Dumars said, the Grizzlies and Hawks – and even the 1980s Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, whom Dumars alludes to elsewhere in the interview – provide a blueprint, and the Pistons have a real chance of overcoming their fit problems.

If Detroit’s frontcourt does that and allows its talent to shine, maybe, just maybe, it could be among the NBA’s best.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Kyle Korver’s playing time: Brad Stevens ‘threw us for a loop’ by not playing Semi Ojeleye

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James is obviously the Cavaliers’ best player. Cleveland’s second-best player? Usually Kevin Love, but Kyle Korver has made a case lately.

So, how did Korver play just 19 minutes, including none in the first quarter, in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night? That was his playoff low, besides Game 1 against the Pacers, when he was still recovering from injury.

Blame Boston coach Brad Stevens removing Semi Ojeleye from his rotation.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue:

Well, initially, he’s been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game. He didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.

This won’t slow the talk of Stevens being a genius. He neutralized one of Cleveland’s best players simply by not using a limited rookie.

Still, Lue’s strategy held some merit. Korver is a defensive liability, but Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it hard to take advantage. Ojeleye’s biggest strength, his physical strength, is of limited utility in trying to stick tight to Korver on the perimeter.

In Games 1-4, Cavaliers with Korver on and…

Ojeleye on:

  • Offensive rating: 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 102.1
  • Net rating: +9.9

Ojeleye off:

  • Offensive rating: 97.0
  • Defensive rating: 109.5
  • Net rating: -12.5

That said, Korver is too good to plant on the bench. Other perimeter options – J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green (who actually played fine last night) – are just so unreliable. Lue shouldn’t just wait for the perfect matchup to use Korver.

But will Lue get it, anyway?

Stevens:

We believe in Semi and we think he’s a big, huge part of our team. It would not be a shock if he plays a ton for us in Game 6.

Lue better develop a plan for using Korver in Game 6 Friday, with contingencies based on Stevens using or not using Ojeleye. I wouldn’t trust Stevens’ declaration one bit, and Lue doesn’t want to get thrown for a loop again.

PBT Extra: Rockets showed defense, resilience, can Warriors show same in Game 5?

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Game 4 was an epic game, and the Houston Rockets proved they are a serious threat to knock the Warriors off the top of the mountain. They took Golden State’s big punch to start the game (a 12-0 run) and Stephen Curry haymaker in the third, cranked up their defense, got a great game from Chris Paul, and evened the series at 2-2.

Heading back to Houston, we can expect more of the same out of the Rockets Thursday night — they know a win in Game 5 puts them in a very dominant position in the series.

The question is, do the Warriors have another gear? That’s one of the topics I get into in this PBT Extra. For a few seasons now, the Warriors have been able to play lockdown defense and hit tough shots in the clutch, with Kevin Durant making them especially hard to stop, but in Game 4 when it got tight they looked tired and slow. Houston’s ball pressure threw Golden State off its game, and fatigue had set in for the Warriors. Can they not only go on big runs but slow down Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets’ attack?

Thursday night is going to be interesting.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.